July 04

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1931

    Above: Willie Miller/Stephen Boyd as the villainous Messala in Ben-Hur (1959).Above: Willie Miller/Stephen Boyd as the villainous Messala in Ben-Hur (1959).

    Willie Millar, actor, born in Glengormley in north Belfast, one of nine children of a poor Presbyterian family. Back in 1959 the must-see movie was the William Wyler-directed adaptation of the Lew Wallace bestseller Ben-Hur (1880), or Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, to give it its full title, a 212-minute—that’s 3 hours and 32 minutes—epic about betrayal and redemption set in Roman times. Lauded with a record eleven Oscars, it enhanced the status of Charlton Heston—better known years later as president of and spokesman for the National Rifleman’s Association (1998–2003)—who won an Oscar for best actor in the leading role, and made Willie Millar, who played the handsome but villainous Messala, an international star. Millar, of course, went by the stage-name Stephen Boyd and had arrived in Hollywood just a year earlier after tours of Canada and the United States as a stage actor and appearances in a number of minor British movies. After Ben-Hur he starred in a series of other ‘sword and sandal’ movies, including the dreadful The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), but never again made movie headlines. He died in June 1977 from a heart attack at the age of 45. Above: Willie Miller/Stephen Boyd as the villainous Messala in Ben-Hur (1959).Above: Willie Miller/Stephen Boyd as the villainous Messala in Ben-Hur (1959).

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